November 16, 2011 by Vinnie Leduc
Welcome to a fanboy’s review of Activision’s latest record-breaking blockbuster, Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3. First, let me introduce myself. I used to be a huge gamer, dipping into video game testing at my peak and still occasionally achievement whoring. But as I’ve had less and less time to enjoy the many facets of entertainment, movies is ultimately my true passion. It’s a big reason why when I do have time for gaming, I love the cinematic experiences that the CoD campaigns immerse you in. And I eat that shit up. Night vision goggles? Check. RC camera car? Guilty. Limited edition Modern Warfare 3 Xbox 360 bundle? It’s mostly to replace my old loud-as-a-train Halo 3 console, but yeah, I plan to get that, too.
So you can probably guess that MW3 was my most anticipated game this year. But I’m a reviewer here too, so I’m not one to automatically proclaim Modern Warfare 3 as the winner over Battlefield 3 (haven’t played it, would like to, and plan to sometime in the future) or the BEST GAME EVARRR just because I’m a self-proclaimed fanboy. Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3 is indeed a great, great game (even awesome to me), but I’ll admit that it’s not perfect, and maybe you’ll be surprised to know that even this year’s campaign disappointed me a bit
Let’s start with the reason most people buy any Call of Duty game nowadays: multiplayer. It’s addictive. It’s balanced. It’s fun. What more could you ask for? Well, we’ve really become spoiled over the recent years with just how awesome CoD multiplayer is, and it’s hard to top the previous year’s iteration in terms of innovation. And this makes it all too easy for the haters to bash on CoD amongst the most common complaint regarding the series: S.S.D.D., to borrow the name of the first mission in Modern Warfare 2. Same Shit, Different Day.
Even though MW3‘s multiplayer has technically added some new things, at its core it is basically the same game on new maps. The multiplayer trailer touted new types of unresettable objectives-based pointstreaks (including the traditional resettable killstreaks) that rewarded players with different playstyles. It’s meant to foster teamwork (or maybe get less aggressive players more involved), but like much of Modern Warfare 3 overall, it’s nothing breakthrough. It is a good step forward though. The addition of pointstreaks encourages games to be played the way they’re meant to. For example, in CTF, instead of just base/flag camping and picking off rushing enemies to boost K/D with no true concern whether your team actually wins, actually capturing the flag will up your pointstreak toward gaining additional perks or care packages.
They’ve added a bunch of modes to multiplayer, but none of them are gamechangers. Kill Confirmed, in which you have to claim dropped dog tags from dead players, is underwhelming and not as cool as it sounds. Team Juggernaut isn’t either because you can’t actually play as the A.I.-controlled juggernaut. Team Defender, Infection, and Drop Zone have all been done before, and some new modes, like Gun Game and One in the Chamber, were lifted from Black Ops.
But sadly, one glaring omission is the absence of a deeper level of multiplayer customization, like character camouflage, player icons, and targeting reticles. It was such a simple, and perhaps irrelevant, part of Black Ops, but its disappearance in MW3 is perplexing. What’s Activision or Infinity Ward saying here? That we’re all just drones? No, we are NOT entitled to even the tiniest expression of our individualism? How satisfying was it in Black Ops to pick up some turd’s rainbow-colored Predator-reticled MP5 and then give him a taste of his own medicine? How hard would it have been to include this in MW3?
My cousin asked me what’s so great about Call of Duty: Elite, the new subscription service that’s included in MW3‘s Hardened Edition among other useless goodies. Too bad I couldn’t tell him because Elite has been crippled, if not completely down, since its launch a week ago. Even worse, it might be completely canned for the PC. After making a big deal about it all year, it’s a damn shame that Elite‘s servers can’t handle the “overwhelming demand.” There’s no excuse either; it’s not like they didn’t expect the record-breaking sales and pre-orders. So if you wanna know what it’s supposed to offer, you’ll have to check out our E3 coverage of Elite.
I am the 1%… that is, the tiny minority that primarily looks forward to the Call of Duty campaigns, which I absolutely love and have replayed multiple times (and not just for the Veteran achievements). Not only did the campaign trailer promise another epic adventure, but the story was written by Oscar winner Paul Haggis (Crash, Flags of Our Fathers, Letters From Iwo Jima, The Next Three Days), so I was pumped. However, despite an insanely action-packed campaign, I was ultimately disappointed. Not totally unsatisfied… but honestly, disappointed.
Casual campaigners might think I’m crazy, and I know why. If you’ve never played an FPS before, or the previous Modern Warfare campaigns, then MW3‘s will blow you away. There’s never a dull moment. It looks gorgeous. It’s an interactive cinematic experience that’ll have your adrenaline rushing. It may top many other Call of Duty campaigns in those aspects, but the story simply does not. Even if you disregard last year’s Black Ops campaign (personally my favorite), gamers familiar with the previous Modern Warfares will not be truly shocked the way they were in Call of Duty 4 when the nuke kills you in the middle of the game or in the sequel when you’re ordered to slaughter unarmed civilians. It’s like how some viewers felt with later seasons of 24: the unexpected stuff just doesn’t shock you as much anymore.
Modern Warfare 3 does try to pull a “No Russian,” but it comes up way short. I could think of numerous ways to make MW3‘s “No Russian” attempt really haunting. Here’s one: how about showing us what happens to that little girl? MW3‘s campaign also goes for an emotional GoW 3 moment, but again, it doesn’t come close to what I felt when that chilling “Mad World” instrumental pierced my tear ducts. I guess there’s sort of a plot twist at some point in MW3‘s campaign, but after Black Ops, you’ll see it coming, and then what after that? No real consequences. Resume story as if nothing extraordinary happened and proceed to spit lead at ridiculous waves of Russians. What the hell, huh?
And that’s what Modern Warfare 3‘s campaign is best at. Car chases, explosions, air strikes, military gadgets, rescue missions. Everything is BIGGER, BULLETS-ER, BOMBS-IER, BLASTS-IER, and BLOCKBUSTER-ER. But most importantly, is it BETTER? We all know that all of that doesn’t magically translate into an improved product. Just ask Michael Bay. This is supposedly a trilogy bookend, so in keeping with the theme of a bigger blockbuster, where are the big-name voice actors? Previous CoDs featured stars like Jason Statham, Kiefer Sutherland, Gary Oldman, Sam Worthington, Ed Harris, Lance Henricksen, Barry Pepper, and Keith David. Although the voice acting in Modern Warfare 3 is superb as always, I don’t recognize any of the actual names.
Haggis does a good job tying the plot to the previous games’, but his work on the last two Bond movies somehow infiltrated Modern Warfare 3. Yes, one of CoD‘s trademarks from the very beginning is at least a two-pronged narrative where you take control of multiple characters, but MW3 jumps ALLLLLL over the place, and it’s seemingly arbitrary. I know it’s supposed to be WWIII, but various times throughout the campaign I found myself wondering aloud, “Why the f@#$ am I in (insert exotic locale here)?”
I haven’t had time to replay the campaign on Veteran yet, something I do with every CoD game, but if MW3 continues the recent trend, I expect it to be the easiest of the series. I can’t believe that I’m complaining about this, but I always felt relatively safe in Modern Warfare 3, like I had semi-god mode on as I Rambo’ed my way through not even five(!) hours of the campaign. (And after a ludicrously short campaign full of a lot of BS moments even for this series, all I get at the end of the credits is a stupid photo?) Even though Black Ops‘ and MW2‘s Veteran difficulties were definitely easier than previous CoDs’, I always felt like I was in danger and that my mission was critically urgent. In MW3, I felt like I was merely tagging along for an interactive movie. Yeah, my character might die. Seen it before. So franchise vets, if they weren’t jaded before, will be now. Cuz this fanboy is.
But gamers playing for the first time will freaking love it. As a standalone piece, MW3 undeniably rocks. It still looks beautiful, the gameplay is still ultra-smooth, and the campaign is still pretty awesome, as long as you’re low on brains. Speaking of which, why no zombies? I know that’s Treyarch’s thing, and Spec Ops’ new Survival mode is a very nice addition that I’ve been enjoying immensely, but it’s basically just a Horde/Firefight rip-off that’s been done before, perhaps even better in other games because MW3‘s Survival mode isn’t even 4-player. Although the emphasis on 2-player co-op is understandable, since you’re serving the same dish every year, you might as well throw Treyarch’s Zombies mode in, too. Why didn’t they? MW3 is up against some VERY tough competition this year, like Gears of War 3, Batman: Arkham City, Unchartered 3, and Battlefield 3.
The ultra-short campaign has nearly everything cool from its predecessors and adds more, barely enough to prevent me from saying Activision pulled a Madden. They even skimped out on the number of Special Ops missions (16 compared to MW2‘s 23). Instead, the spotlight seems to be the new Survival mode, at least from the distribution and requirements of the achievements. I have nothing new to add to what I’ve said before in my E3 exclusive, except that there’s no need to refill on ammo after every wave and that while it’s no Zombies mode, it’s still surprisingly addictive.
That pretty much wraps up my rant. I am aware that I’ve done a LOT of complaining for a 4-star review, but you’ve got to remember that if you were to ignore the previous CoDs and not base everything on the high expectations that a blockbuster franchise and its monster marketing inevitably brews, Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3 is a great game. But the reality is that this industry has come to expect innovation, if not substantial improvement. While MW3 isn’t one step forward and two steps back, I’d say that it’s more like one step forward and one step back. Or a lateral movement. It will keep me occupied for months at least. I’ve had tons of fun so far, I know I’ll have tons more, and I can’t wait to get back at it, whether it’s 1000ing it and appeasing the achievement whore inside me, replaying the campaign and Special Ops on Veteran, challenging myself against endless waves of enemies in Survival mode, or engaging in the ultimate timewaster: competitive multiplayer. Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3 gets 4.0 out of 5 stars (Great).
- Loads and loads of fun across plenty of modes to whet the appetites of a wide spectrum of gamers
- Excellent visual and audio presentation despite essentially having the same graphics and sound as before
- Smooth controls and gameplay easily accessible to both noobs and vets
- Campaign trilogy bookend includes nearly every cool and explosive gameplay element from its predecessors, but…
- … comes up short in replicating the shock and emotion of said games and others. Speaking of short, it’s less than 5 hours on normal.
- Call of Duty: Elite has been a big fat FAIL so far. I want my freaking Founder status, G.D. it!
- Absence of multiplayer customization of characters, targeting reticles, and player icons